Charles Namoloh – father of Special Forces
By Andreas Thomas
MAJOR Gen (Rtd) Charles Namoloh to many Namibians, mostly young people, is an elderly Cabinet minister, a Member of Parliament and senior member of the governing SWAPO Party, who is always seen sporting a maroon beret.
Unbeknown to many of them, Namoloh is one of the revered war heroes of Namibian independence. He is part of the generation of young people that bore the brunt of the struggle against the South African colonial administration.
Namoloh is the father of Special Forces in the People’s Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN), the successor of South West Africa Liberation Army, which started the armed struggle for independence in 1966.
After the Carnation Revolution that led to the army seizing government control in Lisbon, Portugal, in April 25, 1974, many Portuguese colonies, including Angola, gained independence. As a result, Angola became a new frontier for thousands of Namibians fleeing into exile to join the struggle for independence.
From 1974 to 1975, Namoloh was part of a group of 10 that was sent to the Soviet Union for training as commanders. The group consisted of Helao Nafidi, Nicky Nashandi, Mateus Shemvalulu, Mukwaita Shanyengana, Tuli Hiveluah, John Kadhila, and George Ngesheya.
After former Nigerian military ruler, General Murtala Muhammed, donated the first consignment of weaponry to SWAPO, preparations to wage war on South Africa was put into high gear, and Cassinga was designated as a transit centre for fighters coming from training in Zambia waiting to be deployed to different war fronts in Angola.
“In 1976, as we were mobilising to go to the front, the question was where do we go and establish? Cassinga was the place determined to serve as a transit centre for us who were coming from training to be able to go to the front. After we left for the front, it became a centre to receive refugees coming from Namibia before they were channelled to another [camp] in Lumbango. Kwanza (refugee camp) was not yet there, it came after Cassinga was attacked. The other refugee camp was Ndjamba that was close to Cassinga and then Lumbango,” Namoloh said in an interview.
Typhoon commando unit
After the Cassinga attack by the South African forces on May 4, 1978, the leadership of SWAPO was baying for revenge. Namoloh, who by then was the chief of staff for the North Eastern region front, was tasked to establish a crack squad. This is when ‘Typhoon’, the infamous crack commando unit of PLAN, came into existence.
“When Cassinga was attacked, the leadership of SWAPO was thinking of how best to retaliate against the South Africans. So, a decision was taken that a crack unit of PLAN must be trained to go and retaliate against the South Africans. I was then appointed to lead a team of comrades to train this commando unit. We selected the best soldiers from all the fronts – north eastern, north and northwest. The best soldiers were sent to me and my team, to train them and prepare them for this very special operation,” Namoloh recalls.
He was assisted to establish the commando by Lieutenant General (Rtd) Martin Shali, who later became Chief of Namibia Defence Force and the late Ruben Ashipala, who later became the unit commander.
The unit went through several name changes. It was initially known as the special group, then ‘Volcano’ and later the ‘Typhoon’. Members of Typhoon were meant to fight inside Namibia, adopting guerrilla warfare tactics against South African forces, including disrupting economic activities. “When the special group first went into Namibia, they went into commercial farming areas. They attacked infrastructure in the triangle of Grootfontein, Tsumeb, Otavi, and Otjiwarongo. There was no more peace in the area, and if you go into those farms, many of them have dugouts. The area was paralysed, no more economic activities were taking place, as farmers deserted their farms and went to live in towns like Tsumeb,” he said.
After independence, the Namibian Defence Force established military elite units consisting of army commandos, Marine Corps and airborne paratroopers. In recognition of the role he played in establishing the Typhoon commando unit, Namoloh was presented with a maroon beret, the same headgear worn by Namibian elite forces.
The beret became an international symbol of Special Forces, when it was first worn by the British elite airborne forces in the Second World War.
As Namibia celebrates 27 years of independence, the former defence minister and incumbent Minister of Safety and Security, decries lack of proper documentation of national history.
“Our history is not properly documented. And that’s one thing we are working on to document our own history; us who were there.
What we are reading now are South African versions and also there is nothing which has been written from the PLAN perspective especially, from those who were in the command.
“Most of the people who have written are those from lower ranks – talking about themselves and hearsay. But those who were in the command need to tell things as they happened and why they happened. For instance, what was the motive behind creating the Typhoon,” he said.
“When people see me wearing this beret, they might think the man is probably mad. People have recognised that I could be the father of Special Forces of PLAN. I was responsible for the training of the Typhoon and I also became part of the formation of PLAN’s Special Forces that jointly fought together with the Cubans.
So the nucleus of creating Special Forces in Namibia came from there and it’s because I was there,” he said.
During 1987 and 1988, SWAPO further formed elite units that comprised up to 250 soldiers, who fought alongside their Cuban counterparts during the Battle of Cuito Cuanavale. These units were called Tiger, Rhino, Lion and Zebra.